They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.1 Timothy 6:18-19
As the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor. Esther 9:22
And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh- Matthew 2:11
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17
“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa
― Mother Teresa
Why does gift giving still remain an omnipresent part of the Christmas season? I personally have always loved the gift part of Christmas. I love the creativity of coming up with gifts for others, coming up with unexpected things people want or wouldn’t buy for themselves, spending the time laughing over a funny gift or smiling over a thoughtful one. Gift giving was always a part of my family’s holiday celebration- and I have learned for some it is more a source of joy than for others. Cynics would say gift giving is just American materialism and consumerism taking over the holiday. Many complain the focus on gifts detracts from the holiday and makes for an uncomfortable obligation of buying gifts for others. Maybe part of that is true- I can see how rushing around worrying about gifts can tear us away from the love and joy of the Christmas celebration.
But I think that is too simple to write off the tradition of gift giving as a part of Christmas. After all, gift giving was a part of the Christmas story from the very start as the wise men brought the nicest of trade goods to Jesus Christ in the manger (see Matthew 2:11). So why give gifts? And how do gifts relate to God and the spirit of Christmas?
In my opinion, gift giving has historically been a symbol for recognition and appreciation. Gifts in many cultures have functioned as a symbolic exchange between people- groups large and small. Gifts foster unity between people- and represent things such as hospitality, peace, sacrifice and love. Here are some interesting tidbits about global gift giving and traditions surrounding it:
So what do gifts really symbolize? I believe they get at the essence of generosity. See definition below:
1. willingness and liberality in giving away one's money, time, etc.; magnanimity
2. freedom from pettiness in character and mind
3. a giving act.
Of course we can give gifts and not be being that generous. Is giving because you feel obligated to generous? I read a wall street journal article recently about how gift giving often insights more joy in the giver than the receiver. Does this mean gift giving is sometimes selfish? This article I know humbled me- because I know I have given gifts out of the hopes of being recognized or appreciated by others.
Even though this may be the case, I still do believe that gift giving can unlock the spirit of Christmas rather than detract from it. But I think it is not the gifts themselves, but rather the generosity behind them that makes the difference. I think the question is not- what gift should I/could I give this person? But rather- how can I be generous with this person? Gifts can be no doubt one way to do this- by spending a little extra on someone or giving them something that really makes a difference in their lives or brings them joy. Yet I believe there are multiple ways to accomplish sharing generosity at this time of year- maybe by calling a family member or friend you usually wouldn’t, or generously listening to someone rather than talking a lot at them, or maybe by doing most of the Christmas eve dishes. I think generosity is about giving to people in a way that makes a difference for them- not necessarily just in a way that makes us feel good. And this requires the rigor of putting our own egos aside and really being in-tune to those around us. I know this takes effort and is an unfortunately rare mindset for me to be consumed by- what does person x really want/need and how can I provide that for them?
Overall, I think the beauty of Christmas is it is a season of generosity. By being generous with one another- whether through our companionship, acts, words or physical gifts, we are creating a living metaphor for God’s most generous gift to mankind- his son. Jesus was a tangible, real gift- delivered in Bethlehem and wrapped in swaddling clothes. And within Jesus and in so many other ways- God fills our lives with the miraculous- with blessings uncountable and with an outpouring of generosity we could never hope to repay. And our chance to live in these blessings is to a) appreciate God and experience gratitude and b) be generous with others. So during the holiday- we give each other worldly things with love as God gives us divine gifts every day with love. Gifts are the birth and kindling to love, affinity, healing and many other good things, just as Jesus’ life was the birth of new love and affinity between God and mankind.
So my challenge is this- if you are inspired, maybe be generous with someone over the next couple days in a way you usually wouldn’t be. In a way that really makes a difference for someone else, even if it makes you uncomfortable or isn’t your usual way of doing things. I think this may unlock the spirit of Christmas in a new way for you.
And to all my friends and family members and anyone else who may happen to read this message- I hope you have a truly happy and wonderful Christmas- special and memorable in its own right to you and yours. I am grateful for you, the unique difference you make in the lives of others, and the many ways in which the world is lucky to have you in its midst. Thank you for being generous with me by reading this blog. I look forward to future sharing, affinity and conversation with you.
I will close with a link of something that inspires the Christmas spirit in me: